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Openmind exhibited at this week’s Voice and Advanced Communications Summit in Amsterdam, and our Head of Product Management, Derek McElhinney, featured on a panel discussion focussing on how business messaging and conversational commerce will reshape the customer experience. In our latest blog post, Derek summarises the points made by the panel, and highlights other take-aways from meetings with mobile operators during the event.

Shopping today is all about convenience and immediacy. Successful businesses know that they must be able to sell their products or services at the push of a button whenever their customers require them. Customers don’t want to leave the comfort of their homes. They don’t particularly want to talk to a salesperson. They definitely don’t want to wait on hold for a customer service representative. Getting off the couch to find a laptop is too much of a chore. Really, it should be possible to do everything from a mobile phone, and to be honest, having to download a dedicated App for a particular store or business is too much hassle. Consumers want a single App that they can use to find the service they want, review their options, get their questions answered, and make their purchases. The perfect solution for this is to use the standard messaging App, and “Conversational Commerce” is the term used by the industry to describe the full ecosystem that will allow mobile subscribers to use messaging for all their mobile commerce needs.

I was joined on the panel in Amsterdam by representatives from Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, Swisscom and Telenor. Conversational Commerce is of strategic concern to Tier 1 operators like these because it opens up a new world of revenue possibilities from messaging. Different business models can be used, from revenue share on purchases made to targeted advertising. The right revenue mix will depend on the market and the operators willingness to explore different options. Regardless of the model used, the revenue potential of conversational commerce is huge. The GSMA forecasts this market will be worth $74Billion by 2021. 

Everyone understands that RCS will be an important enabler of the conversational commerce applications of the future. Plug-ins on messaging apps will create a visually rich interactive experience making it easy to select choices and to view information on products and services offered. Chatbots will have some role to play in automating conversations between consumers and service providers. Operators will need to make these bots ‘discoverable’, so consumers can browse available services from within the messaging App. Alternatively, consumers will be able to initiate RCS chats while browsing onto a business website. 

While there was broad agreement on the merits of conversational commerce, there is still uncertainty about how to make it a reality. A major concern is the lack of progress in RCS. Many enterprises are interested in the potential of the service, but there is growing impatience with lack of commercial availability. This impatience, coupled with the willingness of OTTs to open their networks to enterprise customers, means that there is a very real risk that the conversational commerce opportunity will bypass mobile operators and instead become the key monetization strategy for OTTs. 

It is imperative for all stakeholders in the mobile messaging ecosystem that this outcome is avoided. Operators need to make concrete steps today if they are to see the benefits of conversational commerce in the future. We cannot sit around and wait for RCS to happen. We must make better use of existing SMS and MMS channels by opening up more interactive engagements with enterprises, while providing a seamless upgrade path to RCS in the future. Operators must build a continuum from SMS to RCS, and extend the functionality they offer to enterprises as it becomes available. If operators are to avoid losing the market to OTTs, the path to rich business messaging and conversational commerce must be a smooth, transitional evolution for enterprise customers, not a revolution.

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